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Monday, May 3, 2010

Detroit 9000 (1973) review

DETROIT 9000 (1973)

Alex Rocco (Lieutenant Danny Bassett), Hari Rhodes (Sergeant Jesse Williams), Vonetta McGee (Ruby Harris), Scatman Crothers (Reverend Markham), Robert Phillips (Inspector Morgan Chalmers)

Directed by Arthur Marks

A group of thieves steal $400,000 from a number of supporters at a fund raising event for black congressman, Aubrey Hale Clayton. Tensions rise when racism is questioned as being a key component in the crime being committed as well as it being prevented. Lieutenant Danny Bassett is partnered with Sergeant Jesse Williams to solve the case. With anxieties already high, the strained partnership only adds to the problematic caper.

Arthur Marks strikes again this time delivering a vastly important topical crime thriller with some volatile ideas and performances. Easily one of the best black oriented motion pictures of the 1970's which imports some elements from the exploitation end of black cinema that became popular at the start of the decade. It's a thought provoking, sometimes ferocious, yet quality police procedural with controversial subject matter.

Mark's thought provokingly violent movie is a police thriller with attitude. Possessing an incredibly uncomfortable air of race hate on both white and black, the script is an ingenious concoction of infighting between black pride and white supremacy. But it's not confined to black and white. There's also discussion that the heist was a black on black crime. From start to finish, there are oodles of conversations and heated debates about racial discrimination and how it figures into society, the business world and also the political world.

All sides presented are positive and negative. For every good, honest cop, there's an equally crooked and seedy policeman. Ditto for the politicians. The only constant are the criminals, they're all bad. It's in a similar vein to the correspondingly gut punching, but even more violent police thriller, ACROSS 110TH STREET from the year prior. One of the finest aspects of this production is the amount of subterfuge especially the finale where everything is not as it seems leaving the audience to answer for themselves the question raised during the closing moments. The reason behind a dismembered corpse found inside a trunk in the river is another plot device that turns out to be not as it seems.

DETROIT 9000 (whose title refers to an officers distress call) is often lumped in with the blaxploitation genre of movies. That's not in any way being detrimental to the many mindless action films that propagated during that period, just that there's a lot more going on here than simple blood, guns and breasts that defined the more famous entries the genre was known for. There's still a good number of action scenes including a dynamite shoot out conclusion that's spread out all over Detroit from a railway to a cemetery with cops on foot, in cars and even on horseback!

"There you see'em...the ultimate product of your jive ass honky establishment, your house nigger."--Sgt. Williams is shocked that little has changed with some of the older generation in the way they interact with whitey

It does have some elements you'd expect from the films such as a handful of bloody shoot outs and chases and a risibly funkadelic soundtrack. Also the litany of racial slurs and innuendo are prevalent. In many cases, this is just an extension of the characters expressing their emotional state. One such sequence is when Bassett goes to visit his mentally unstable wife whose in a mental hospital. Needless to say, she has little respect for anyone other than the "right people".

Critical and carefree Lt. Danny Bassett sits in on a radio talk show called "Buzz the Fuzz" and answers a question regarding the heist at the black congressman fundraiser....

Caller: Was it whites rippin' off blacks, or brothers rippin' off brothers?

Lt. Bassett: I don't, uh...really give a damn.

Caller: You mean you a honky racist like the rest o' the pigs! You don't care what happens to black people looong as they keep their place, huh?

Lt. Bassett: No, what I mean is I don't care whether the bastards are black, brown, blue, yellow, or green. When an asshole commits a felony I'm gonna do my goddamndest to bust'em! That's what I mean!

Bassett tries to console his racist and mentally disturbed wife, Maddy, who now resides in an institution

The performances are good across the board with an occasional wooden line exchange here and there. Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH) is spot on as the begrudging, terminally frustrated Lieutenant with a chip on his shoulder. Foul mouthed and aching to be left alone, the character of Bassett is one of the best parts of the movie. Robert Phillips plays the chief Inspector and 70's action fans will recognize him from a slew of movies playing predominantly bad guys. It's a refreshing change of pace to see him play a good guy for a change.

"Go on, try it. Go for it, you bastard. Gimme an excuse to waste a goddamn cop killer!"

Hari Rhodes is also an imposing presence as the Sergeant assigned to partner with Bassett to crack the caper. His role as Williams is stoic and confident in his resolve. Rhodes was also one of the high marks in another film with racial subtext, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972) where he played the sympathetic human, MacDonald.

Ruby's services are required by the shady Aubrey Hale Clayton. Scatman Crothers (left) plays the not so holy Reverend Markham

Vonetta McGee plays a call girl with a lot of inside information. She's not in the movie much, but is integral to the solving of the big heist. McGee was the object of interest in BLACULA (1972) and also in the ultra violent Italian spaghetti western classic, THE GREAT SILENCE (1967). Bob Minor is on hand yet again in a bloody shootout chase sequence early in the movie.

Stuntman/actor extraordinaire Bob Minor

DETROIT 9000 (1973) is a thoroughly entertaining and stimulating action-police drama. It's subject matter is just as topical today as when the movie was released. It also has elements found in the best of the blaxploitation movies, but Arthur Mark's incendiary police procedural really doesn't belong there. Highly recommended.

This review is representative of the Miramax DVD


Fazeo said...

I saw this many years ago and I rather enjoyed it. The action setpieces, especially the massive shootout are what I remember most from the film.

venoms5 said...

Great movie, Fazeo, and that shootout at the end goes on forever.

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